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Page last updated at 12:27 GMT, Friday, 21 May 2010 13:27 UK
Bees: Looking for a hive of their own at Wimpole Hall
National Trust Bee keepers & hive
National Trust beekeepers are a crucial part of the BBC project Bee Part of It

A desirable home with traditional features, made from sustainable cedar and in an outstandingly beautiful Cambridgeshire location is to let.

Yes, the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire bee hive has just been put into position at the National Trust's Wimpole Hall. All it lacks is a colony of bees.

All over the country the BBC and the National Trust are working together in this way to stop the insects' decline.

It is all part of the BBC's new project Bee Part of It.

Bee decline

The decline in bee numbers has been worrying experts and bee keepers for a number of years. During the winter 2008 to 2009, a third of the UK's bee colonies were lost and no one knows why.

So the BBC, the National Trust and the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit at Worcester are working together on the Bee Part of It project.

Dr Bill Block is from the Cambridgeshire Beekeepers' Association. He suggested two factors are increasing the decline in bee numbers:

Wimpole Hall with tractor in front of it
Wimpole Hall supplies food to many National Trust properties

"There are many more diseases around and the amount of pollination is less because of intensive farming and herbicides.

The herbicides don't necessarily kill the bees but kill wildflowers and plants so bees have less to feed on.

"It's much harder to keep bees than 15 or 20 years ago."

The way we garden these days is not a help to bees either, according to Professor John Newbury from the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit.

He said: "One of biggest problems over here [in the UK] is nutritional. The bees fly around looking for good flowers to visit, to get good quality pollen and nectar and they can't always find them.

"We're so careful in our gardens, with decking and tarmacing and we mow the lawns close, so we're not helping bees by providing flowers for them to visit."

Bee Part of It

So how will this project work? It is not just a case of increasing the number of hives, although that helps.

The beekeepers at Wimpole Hall, and at all the other BBC hives at National Trust properties, will be asked to send weekly samples from the hive to the Research Unit.

Experts will then analyse the samples to see which plants the bees have visited. By the end of the summer the researchers hope to have built up a picture of the variety of plants visited, to see if there is a connection between this and the health of each hive.

Honey bee on flower
A third of honey bee colonies did not survive the winter before last

Why it matters

Pollination by bees is worth £200 million to British agriculture says Professor Newbury.

"We've taken bees for granted for far too long," he explained. "If we had 10 or 20 years to get organised we could lessen the impact of bee decline.

"But swapping where we are now to where we need to be, to make a sufficient number of plants self-pollinating, is a tall order I'm afraid.

"We've got a real problem here."

There are also fewer beekeepers. In 1900, according to Dr Block, there were a million bee hives in the UK. Now there are around 250,000.

"It's more expensive and difficult to keep bees nowadays, but that said we have over 80 people signed up to do the Cambridgeshire Beekeepers' Association's beginners' course."

So how long might it be before a colony of bees takes over the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire hive at Wimpole Hall?

Well it need not take too long according to Dr Block: "When a colony swarms it sends out scouts to look out for a new place to set up home. So it should be relatively easy."

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